Aging and Exercise – First of a Three Part Series

Whether we like it or not, we are all aging. As much as I try to deny it or defy it, it’s happening. Most seniors tend to give up once they’ve reached a certain age and they don’t think exercise will help them or they are just too afraid to start a program, especially if they have pain. Much of the decline in physical health and ability attributed to aging is accelerated by inactivity. While nothing can make you live forever, a well-rounded exercise program can slow and even reverse many factors associated with the aging process.
Light to moderate intensity endurance exercise seems to help lower blood pressure and improves blood lipid profile by increasing HDL cholesterol levels and reducing the level of plasma triglycerides. Blood also becomes less likely to form the kinds of clots that lead to heart attack or stroke inside the blood vessels. Regular exercise also burns calories, helps reduce excess body fat and reduces the amount of fat stored inside the abdominal area which fat in this location increases the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Endurance or aerobic exercises refer to activities such as brisk walking, biking, or swimming that raise your metabolic rate for at least 10 minutes. These activities “stress” the muscles, bones and joints, the heart, blood vessels and lungs, and the other systems responsible for oxygen delivery and energy production. These systems respond to the stress of exercise by becoming stronger and healthier.
Aging is characterized by loss of muscle mass and muscular strength. In old age, this decline is often associated with extreme muscular weakness that can interfere with simple daily activities such as carrying groceries and other housekeeping tasks. Strength training is the remedy. Strength training improves quality of life within a relatively short period of time and muscular conditioning can help get older people to be ready for endurance exercise. Strength training refers to exercise that requires your muscles to exert a force against some form or resistance, such as weights, elastic tubing, water or the weight of your body such as in pushups. A class or personal trainer may be helpful for beginners. The key is to work fairly hard but not so hard as to cause an injury like a pulled muscle. Performing strength-training exercises two to three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes yield terrific results. Muscles and joints become stronger, daily activities feel easier, and balance improves, helping to prevent falls that can lead to broken bones.
Exercise is often prescribed for orthopedic problems, such as rotator cuff injury, back aches and so forth. Many of the health problems that become more common with age, such as arthritis, insomnia and diabetes, respond favorably to exercise. Much research also supports that connection between regular physical activity and psychological well being. Exercise helps prevent and treat depression. People who exercise regularly report feeling stronger, more energetic and more capable. Exercise also helps relieve stress and improve quality of life.
It has been said that while exercise may or may not add years to your life, it will certainly add life to your years. Unless you have a health problem that could be made worse by exercise, you are never too old to start exercising. Always check with your doctor before starting a program. When you have clearance, begin slowly, build gradually and seek guidance from your doctor, exercise instructor or personal trainer on how to do certain exercises safely and correctly. Don’t forget exercise is fun and you’re never too old to do it!

Mary Wannall is the owner of Real Life Fitness and can be reached at or at 770-382-4653. Real Life Fitness has Silver Sneaker classes for persons aged 65 and older Monday through Friday at 10:15am and Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7:15am.